Over the last decade our New Year’s Eve programme has become one of our favourite events of the whole year. We see the same faces come and celebrate with us each year and it’s always both an honour and a challenge in equal measure to try and find just the right film that will speak a little of where our heart or our head is or to try conjure up some magic in just the perfect way that only cinema can.
This year while so many things are so painfully different to 'normal' that magic at least endures and again we have been wondering what films we could share today to help us along a little. With this in mind we've decided that this New Year's Eve we'd like to indulge in a special romantic double bill of Carol (2015) directed by Todd Haynes and Casablanca (1942) directed by Michael Curtiz.
Despite being made 73 years apart the sweeping beauty of both films and the iconic performances at their heart make both a treat to enjoy in the cinema or at home. Really though it’s the romance which we’re here for. Watching love stories unfold on film is like being invited into a person’s world as they are at their most vulnerable, most brave, most optimistic. Whether it all works out or not the leap of faith is always beautiful and that’s the idea we wanted to dive into this New Year’s Eve.
You can find Carol available to rent on BFI player or on Amazon Prime and Casablanca is currently playing on BBC iPlayer.
Today's pick, this Christmas Eve, couldn't be anything other than the hugely popular festive classic, It's A Wonderful Life.
As we approach the end of this most unusual of years, this will be the first time in decades that we’ve not screened the film. We know for many it’s become somewhat of a tradition to visit the Picture House at Christmas – and to be transported once again to Bedford Falls and the wonderful world of George Bailey. So with this not possible this year, we're thankful at least that the film is available to watch for free at home for the next seven days, on channel4.com.
We were also keen this year to find another way to keep the tradition alive and pay tribute to a film that for so many of you continues to mean so much. That's why we've dedicated our latest episode of our Philosophy & Film Podcast to the film – featuring a conversation between Joe Saunders and Prof Shannon Dea, from the University of Regina in Canada.
We know it won't quite be the same watching the film from home this year, but we'll be tuning in, and raising a glass to all of our incredible audiences, community partners, staff members and volunteers who have kept the cinema going through thick and thin – wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a much better 2021.
Our Hyde and Seek family-friendly pick this weekend is Studio Ghibli's visually astounding and gloriously riveting The Red Turtle (2017, PG, 77min) – currently available on Amazon Prime.
A well needed antidote to an unusual and at times hectic festive season, the film will give you and your loved ones time and space to slow down and transport your senses elsewhere.
The award-winning animation follows the story of a man shipwrecked on a tropical island inhabited by turtles, crabs and birds. Boasting the same effortless skill, imagination and beauty which Studio Ghibli are so admired for, The Red Turtle also takes a surprisingly minimalist approach, which results in a film that's refreshingly calm and serene.
Although light in both dialogue and story, the film expertly conveys complex milestones experienced by most – ranging from birth and love, to isolation and loss – with a masterful and effortless light touch. The film's apparent simplicity is achieved through a rich array of animation styles and devices, accompanied by a wonderful symphony of music, to depict a profoundly poignant tale.
From younger children through to older adults, The Red Turtle is a superb film that's truly accessible for all.
With the passing of the novelist John le Carré this week, today’s pick is the stark and brooding adaptation of his novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
The film follows a near-ruined British agent, Aleck Lemas (Richard Burton) as he embarks on “one last job”, drinking himself into a stupor to plant himself behind the iron curtain. Le Carré initially thought Burton too dashing to portray the sallow, washed-out Lemas, but Burton’s performance manages to carry a mountain of world-weary resignation, dragging the character along with a ground-in, gritty determination.
The film has everything you’d expect from a le Carré story, political idealists and jaded veterans caught in the same tangle of manipulation and intrigue; mundane yet grippingly suspenseful moments charged with the weight of consequence. Here, life hangs by a thread, with fate decided by sidelong glances and innocuous gestures.
Arguably the finest Cold War drama there is.
One of our favourite films from this year's Leeds International Film Festival was the delightful (and we really are serious when we use that word) Chilean docu-drama, The Mole Agent (2020, 84mins, PG).
When a family become concerned about the care their mother is receiving in her retirement home, they hire private investigator Romulo to get to the bottom of the situation. Of course he in turn hires himself a plant to place in the home in the form of Sergio, an 83 year-old widower who has grown bored of his daily routine. However, Sergio is not 007, and not an easy trainee when it comes to technology and spying techniques.
The Mole Agent is a stylish combination of an observational documentary and a spy movie, with sleek camerawork and wonderfully watchable characters. It’s a unique meditation on compassion and loneliness that will infiltrate your heart and never let go.
You can now stream The Mole Agent from Dogwoof Online, and later today (Wednesday 16th, 7pm) join Birds Eye View for a special Q&A with director Maite Alberdi to learn a little more about how this almost painfully compassionate documentary came to be made.
Feeling nostalgic for family Christmases of the past? Then the BFI Player has some free festive treats just for you! Their Christmas Crackers collection of archive films includes a gloriously evocative selection of seasonal home movies, produced by an eclectic mix of families revelling across the years – with no social distancing in sight!
The questionable fashion and food may vary throughout the years, but the familiar archetypal traditions of family, gifts and fun remain ever present.
We would particularly recommend the amateur delights of local Leeds’ filmmaker Alan Sidi, held by the Yorkshire Film Archive and added to the BFI's collection. This includes Christmas Story, a tender and insightful look into a post-war family Christmas, made by Sidi at the young age of 19. And Sidi Family Christmas, which shows the filmmaker over two decades later, introducing the film with a sherry in hand.
An innovative and eccentric man of many ideas and inventions, Sidi began making films at school in the 1940s and continued to produce travelogues and family films through until the 1970s. As well as being the driving force behind the Leeds Mercury Movie Makers, his invention of a cine-sync machine in the 1960s enabled audio to be synchronised with, and then added to 16mm film. A local film pioneer!
The majority of our Hyde Park Picks come directly from Picture House staff and volunteers – but sometimes we like to mix things up and reach out to some of Leeds' finest, for their film recommendations. And with that in mind, and to coincide with World Booksniffers Day, today's special pick comes from Colours May Vary's Andy Gray.
"The 12th of December is World Book Sniffing Day, a date in the calendar when one can indulge in the gentle, mindful act of … well, sniffing a good book. What better accompaniment to this bibliophilic bonanza than D.W Young’s documentary on the lives and loves of those involved in the antiquarian book trade in New York?
The Booksellers (2019) plunges us elbow-patch deep into the magical (and compulsive) world of bookselling and collecting. Populated by a fascinating coterie of erudite eccentrics, this film is a celebration of the book in an age where reports of its death may have been greatly exaggerated. I say ‘may have’ as, throughout this film, the faint but inescapable smell of death (which is not a good smell at Book Sniffers Club) is never too far away - the death of print, of many independent bookstores and of the collecting impetus itself comes to the fore on several occasions. However, the film manages often to counter these negatives with positives - a recent explosion in NYC of street-level, bricks and mortar stores, for example, or an ageing old-guard (largely white and male) being replaced by a younger, equally driven, but more diverse crowd. As for the Internet, sure it has somewhat killed ‘the thrill of the chase’ but hasn’t it democratized the industry too, made it shareable, accessible?
What really shines here, aside from the staggering sums paid for some of these huge, vellum covered tomes, is the passion of the people involved. Rarely do you get the feeling that personal gain is the key criteria for the collecting impulse. Yes, the rarity/desirability factor is writ large in places, but often the people we meet are creating and maintaining important archives, making them accessible, and bringing marginalised histories into the light. Yes, the antiquarian book collecting field may have been once populated by men in Tweeds, smoking pipes and banning women from their societies (although the light shone on groundbreaking work of Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern demonstrates that they didn’t have it all their own way), but the contemporary field is far less stuffy than you might imagine. Today pre-digital hip hop magazine archives are being collated, the papers and associated ephemera of Malcolm X and James Baldwin find a home with the New York Public Library and historically important collections of female writers and history-makers are exhibited to the public.
Amid all of this, you’ll find books bound in human skin, a library where the contents are filed in height order, unfeasibly expensive Renaissance artworks and much more biblio-centric bounty besides. It is the people though, with their determination, passion and drive who are the stars here. I imagine every single one of them when sat peacefully away from the camera’s eye, pulled out a book and, with eyes closed, sniffed it deeply.
This Saturday is World Book Sniffing Day - follow us @booksniffersclub on Instagram, @sniffandtell on Twitter and visit booksniffers.club to leave your own sniff notes."
The Booksellers is available to rent and stream for £3.99 via the Curzon Home Cinema.